Part II - The Answer of the Tongue
6 - The London Friends
WHO were these despised friends of Charles Jeffreys? They were members of the congregation of Joseph Francis Burrell in Titchfield Street, off Oxford Street. They did not attach a denominational name to themselves. It was just "the ministry of God's word". The original members had belonged to the congregation of William Huntington, preacher and writer raised up by God in the 18th Century to shake His people out of the slumber of formalism and the errors of John Wesley's Arminianism - Universal charity and the winning of Heaven by zeal and good works. Huntington had had a large chapel in the West End, and when that was burnt down another and a larger one was at once erected. He had a crowded congregation to whom he preached doctrines and experience described thus by J. C. Philpot: "He denied the law to be a rule of life to a believer, but contended for manifestations of Christ to the soul as a vital point; he insisted on a personal experience of law and Gospel, of condemnation and acquittal, and enforced all he taught by a most wonderful command of the Word of God, which he seemed able to quote in the fullest, freest manner from Genesis to Revelation, and applied with a point and pregnancy peculiar to himself.
The congregation used the hymns of Joseph Hart, a minister of an earlier generation than Huntington, but one who contended for the same truths, embodying them in verse, which, "used in the praises of the Lord in the house of the Lord, stamped him as a far-reaching and efficient teacher". To quote George Alexander of Birkenhead, "Not only in his clear and bold declaration of truth in doctrine, but particularly as an experimental hymn-writer, pouring forth his soul in the sweet experience of vital godliness, does Mr. Hart shine in the firmament of the Church militant".
Huntington died in 1813, and his congregation, we read, "was scattered to all winds, many people separating from the truth". By the time we come to 1833 Henrietta Gilpin met a settled congregation who had striven to cleave to the truth through evil report and good report. Their pastor was Joseph Francis Burrell.
He was born in 1770 in Molsheim, a small town in Alsace on the borders of France and Germany, and was brought up a Roman Catholic, being taught, he says, "to worship idols of gold, silver, wood and of stone, the work of men's hands, being nourished up greatly to admire the fabulous accounts of innumerable popish saints, as well as terrified with the preposterous details of their conflicts with the Devil in person". His father after having served thirty years in the army had a small place given to him with several privileges, but as he had a large family he could not give Joseph the education he could have wished. "My mother," he writes, "had a sister whom she had not seen for twenty years. She was a most accomplished woman in all polite learning, and being mistress of several languages, she had travelled in divers countries of Europe with people of distinction as their interpreter. At last she settled in Paris with her little son and as her husband had left her, she made use of those talents and gained a very comfortable living. She gave her son an excellent education and he soon became very proficient in the art of music. She got him appointed one of the secretaries to the French Ambassador then going to England, where she also followed him, but he soon after returned to Paris, and became a teacher of music and was so successful that he became famous in it. And now my aunt remembered her sister and directing a letter at a venture, enquired after my mother. My parents had had the sorrow of losing all their large family except my eldest brother and myself. And now my aunt offered to take charge of us and give us a suitable education."
Against this new background the young Burrell developed with great promise, having every advantage, first in Paris, and later at Laroche Guyon where the Duchess of Amville lived, whose castle was the rendezvous of learned men in the summer season. A special favourite of hers was M. Lamblardie, a clergyman ex-professor at the University of Paris, and now tutor to Joseph Burrell; through him Burrell had access to a noble library. Thus, he says, he spent several years, closely applying himself to various pursuits, never failing to rise at four in the morning, such was his delight in study. "In the midst of all my daily occupations," he says, "religion was not the least of my cares, especially as I now might be considered at the fountain head of it, for I went every morning to hear Mass said by my tutor or one of his vicars. My tutor had taken great pains to fit me to become a worthy member of the Church of Rome, and no youth could have taken more pains to seek the favour and approbation of God than I. But alas! all that I remember of those days amounts to this, that notwithstanding all my efforts, vows, prayers, tears, penance, and grievous acts of mortifying my flesh, yet the devil and sin had the dominion over me. For I was selfish, proud, and conceited, and loved worldly applause. I found also, as I grew up, dreadful risings of secret lusts which I often endeavoured to subdue by fastings, beating myself, and frequently kneeling upon a sharp stick in order to mortify myself before God, but all to no purpose. To my astonishment I grew worse and worse. . . .
"At the age of eighteen I had made such progress that my friends thought me fit for almost any employment, and an influential friend soon told me that through his interest at Court [It was the elegant court of Louis XVI's days, fated to a terrible dissolution] he had got me appointed secretary to the Baron of Eskar, General of the army in the Netherlands. My friends were vastly pleased with this step on the road to preferment and my aunt delayed not to equip me in the best manner she could. I was now hurried into the midst of a gay and splendid world, where I certainly should have been drowned in destruction had not a good and gracious God watched over me, and disappointed my towering projects. I was introduced to the Baron's father-in-law, M. La Borde, accounted to be the richest man in the kingdom. He was immoderately fond of music, on which account I found great favour with him after he had heard me perform on the pianoforte. I found that all my former pursuits and studies came now into great use, for my musical and drawing talents joined with polite manners rendered my company agreeable, principally to the ladies, while the facility of conversing about almost every subject rendered it also acceptable to others.
Though all things concerning my present situation in life seemed to promise fair, yet as the Lord had designed better things for me he suffered me not to take root in this barren soil. One thing was found lacking in me which proved an insurmountable obstacle in my way; I could neither soothe the vanity of the great nor flatter their vile passions. I soon found that the Baron was an ignorant, vain, and vicious man and at length I dreaded to be alone with him, and showed, at last, my displeasure. He now altered his conduct towards me, and no doubt prejudiced M. La Borde against me. I was released from my services and, by the watchful providence of God, from a most perilous situation. No doubt but my aunt saw much deeper into the snares I had escaped, but being a prudent woman she did not enter into any explanations. She very soon put into effect a project for our going to London where my cousin (her son) had settled after his marriage, and where he was doing extremely well in the profession of music. So, although he made a great many objections she was not discouraged, and receiving his consent at last we took leave of our friends and left France, arriving in London in the month of May, 1788.
"How can I look with indifference at the dreadful Revolution in France which proved so destructive to thousands by the sword of war, murders, famine, and other calamities? Humanly speaking, what might have been my lot if the Lord had not been pleased to bring me out in due time? The General, who had lived in great splendour and nourished himself and his lusts as in a day of slaughter, at last was starved in a corner of Germany. As for M. La Borde, he turned much of his immense property into ready money and conveyed one million sterling over to England, intending to make his escape there, but being informed against he was apprehended and shortly after was guillotined. Thus the mighty perished, while a poor insignificant creature like me was marvellously preserved that I might see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Oh, how later I was made to see how God had wrought on my behalf though I was ignorant of the mighty Hand that girded and led me."
Mr. Burrell had been earnestly warned by his tutor to take great care not to be entangled by the "heretics of the worst sort" with which England was full. "As you value your life, flee from them, and remember that there is no salvation anywhere but within the pale of the Church of Rome." The young man assured his tutor that they should never make a proselyte of him. But it was a remarkable thing that from the beginning of his life in London to his death he never went to any Roman Catholic places of worship! The example of his cousin and family gave the blow to his religious fervour, for they professed no religion at all, and soon took him with them to "routs, plays, operas, and gay assemblies". These effectually banished every serious thought from his mind. He spent several months preparing for his music-teaching and learning English. His cousin proved a hard master, for he had kept an exact account of all that had been spent of Joseph's education and intended he should pay it all back, adding thereto an "enormous sum" for his board and lodging. All this took him several years to pay back. His aunt, sickened at this treatment and finding life uncomfortable with her daughter-in-law, returned to France. "I lost in her a true friend," says Burrell, "and her departure was productive of many changes and calamities which overtook me."
The young man was now left to pursue his own life, and confesses that he thought himself much better than many young men, "Because I kept the best of company, led a comparatively innocent life, was very assiduous in business, comported myself with great propriety in the world, and was esteemed and well spoken of by everybody". He speaks of pupils among the aristocracy, of "happening to sup with the Dowager Lady Littleton with whom he was perfectly well acquainted", and so on. But he wore out his strength, for after walking great distances, and in all weathers, to his different pupils, he spent his evenings out late when he should have rested. "I used to dress and equip myself as gay as possible and went parading on the devil's ground, intruding into many places at the hazard of my life, and though I had at times a sense of my danger, yet I could not refrain from running headlong into, the way of temptation. But never in all my life before did I find such dreadful work in my conscience. O how I endeavoured to resist, and what a dreadful conflict I found it, yet I seemed hurled forwards as with a tempest. Thus was I torn to pieces for many weeks." In fact, he presently fell a victim to a young woman he met with in this environment, and in the end married her, under many false pretences to both her and his own relations.
For several years Mr. Burrell went through great depths of terror for sin in his conscience. This was the direct work of the Holy Spirit on his heart for he knew not a word of Scripture nor met with any religious person or book. He said later that "as I have since had the most wonderful, clear and undoubted fellowship with God in Christ so that by faith I have heard His voice, felt Him near, and have delighted in Him, just so (dreadful it is to think of it!) did I at this time have sensible and horrid fellowship with the Devil; having a clear perception of his presence; knowing, feeling, and evidently experiencing that he influenced me in all things. Guilt, horror, and despair followed me so that I felt as if I was possessed of the Devil. I really believe that the Lord in infinite wisdom suffered me thus to wade through the bottomless mire of sin that I might be enabled to speak a word in season to many in like case". He became ill, he recovered, he had terrifying dreams, he had awful views of the immense majesty of God, and at length says, "The Lord who had instructed me with a strong hand, led me gradually to His dear Son, by causing that word to fall into my hands which in former days I ignorantly despised. The very name of Christ now began to captivate my mind, and I greatly desired to know more about Him. This was granted in the following manner.
"As I was one day passing through Swallow Street I saw a book in a shop window entitled The Life of Jesus Christ, or the Harmony of the Gospels, by John Locke. I bought the book with great joy, really believing I was now in possession of the greatest treasure under heaven, although I knew not the subject matter it contained. The love I found to this book was so great that I anticipated the pleasure of reading it while I was engaged with my pupils, and used to run home at full speed to be at it again, and even had it next to my plate when at my meals. No poor creature could be more blind and ignorant that I really felt myself, yet not a word I read fell to the ground, for the life and power communicated by the word was truly marvellous, and filled me with such desires, groanings and anxious expectations after Christ that I can truly say I was in pain to bring forth. The spiritual labour of my soul, in meditation of the things of God and in seeking rest was so great that my whole frame was influenced with almost unbearable weariness. It is really wonderful how I was enabled at all to teach my pupils, seeing that my soul was continually swallowed up with the things of another world.
In the month of December, 1792, as I was one evening sitting by the fireside reading to my wife in my precious book, I felt at intervals a most extraordinary power from the Word, which increased especially when I came to these words, "I am sorrowful even unto death". Such a scene of the sufferings of Christ was suddenly discovered to me that my heart was ready to break. I faltered as I read on, endeavouring by all means to refrain myself before my wife, but found it hard work. When I came to these words, "It is finished!" I could refrain no longer, and suddenly my eyesight failed me and I lost sight of every object in the room. It appeared as if a great light shone within me, and I saw before the eyes of my understanding the Lord Jesus Christ hanging on the cross in the agonies of death. I broke out into the most bitter weeping and lamentations. I sunk down in the chair, scarcely knowing where I was; and though my eyes were closed, yet I was steadfastly looking at the blessed object before me, deeply feeling His sufferings with a mixture of sorrow as well as comfort and delight which cannot be described in human words. My wife being utterly astonished and confounded at my behaviour cried out, "You fool, what are you doing?". But the divine vision shone brighter and brighter, and I lay in the arm chair more than half-an-hour without being able to sit upright; feeling no use in my limbs nor power to speak through the excessive crying which had swelled my throat; but seeing, hearing, and feeling things altogether wonderful, and impossible to describe or utter.
"At last I gradually came to myself and could hardly believe I was the same man. Before this wonderful change took place my soul was daily most terribly influenced with unconquerable fears about death, hell, eternity, and destruction so that every object round me only contributed to communicate distress and misery; but now, everything I beheld seemed to conspire to increase the peaceful felicity of my joyful heart. As previously I could scarcely attend my pupils for sorrow of heart, so now I found it difficult to attend them because my joy was so great. I was often obliged to wipe the tears from my eyes, for a sense of Christ's dying love followed me wherever I went. It is said that Constantine the Great saw a cross in heaven with these words, "In this conquer". So I evidently saw for many weeks that blessed object day and night continually in whom indeed I was made more than conqueror. Often I could not go to sleep, being engaged for hours in sweet meditations. One night in particular I felt a more than common power upon my soul, and as I looked with intense desires I saw Him again, not as crucified, but as risen from the dead, and He appeared surrounded with unspeakable light and glory. I looked at Him with holy astonishment and saw His wounds, but especially His pierced side, from which the blood appeared to stream forth abundantly and in which in another moment I seemed bathed, for in a transport of affections my soul had hastened to Him and clasped Him in my arms."
(Mr. Burrell often referred to this wonderful manifestation in after years.)
"Grace is known by its fruits," he continues, "in vain therefore do men in a religious profession talk of experience, comfort, and joy, if these teach them not to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts. Salvation was now come into my soul; it was become like the temple of God, and Christ as in old time drove all thieves out of it. I was not only afraid now to offend God, but even the least of the creatures he had made. Those lusts and fierce temptations under which I had groaned for years all vanished away, for the gracious Lord purified my heart to such a degree that I could not endure the least thought of foolishness, levity or uncleanness. I really loathed all my former sources of information, so after examining my books, I sold some and others I burned. Some of the books might have been of great use to me since, yet I repent not that I parted with them, because it has been a noble proof of that beauty, glory, and excellency I had found in my gracious Saviour. Thus the Lord alone did lead me, and that for many weeks, and truly there was no strange god with me; for as yet I knew neither preacher nor any professor of religion. I felt myself indeed not to be of this world, even as Christ is not of this world; and the joy of the Lord within me was so great that I really thought that my time on earth would be but short; for I had no one about me who could tell me that I was so highly favoured for the very purpose to enable me hereafter to bear the cross, and to endure with Christ a great fight of afflictions.
"Now though I knew not the Word of God, which commands the assembling of his people together (for as yet I had only seen the Gospels), yet I found an increasing desire and strong impression upon my mind that I ought to attend some place of worship, but where I could not tell. Though I had no understanding as yet to discern any difference between the Church of Rome and any other persuasion, yet it never once came into my mind to go to one of their churches. The Lord who had hitherto led and instructed me, suffered me not to fan into the hands of blind guides but brought me to sit under a minister of His own sending, who was to feed me with knowledge and understanding.
"My landlord, with whom I had never exchanged more than five words, attended the chapel of Mr. Huntington, and it was strongly impressed upon my mind that this was the man I was to hear. I now asked him about the time of preaching and whether there would be room for me. He seemed not a little surprised at my questions, as I had many times before sadly annoyed him with the noise of my pianoforte on the Sabbath day. However, he agreed to take me with him next morning to the chapel. I was ready to go at eight o"clock, but was told it wanted two hours yet to the time. We arrived. Everything I saw now appeared entirely new to me: the modest gravity of the people, the order in which they sat, some reading in books, others softly conversing together (about Christ, as I thought); in short, they appeared like a company of angels to me, and I felt a most fervent love towards them. But when the first hymn was given out, and was descriptive of the crucified Saviour I could hardly contain myself.
Poor sinners, sing the Lamb that died
With all that scene of suffering love
'surely, I said in my heart, this is the house of God and He is here of a truth, for otherwise, how could these people sing the very experience of my soul? When it came to the sermon, as ] had never heard any experimental preaching nor read any other parts of Scripture but the four Evangelists, I found myself unable to understand what the preacher said for near an hour, when suddenly the good man altered in his preaching and said, "Now I will come down to you". Now indeed I was filled with wonder and admiration for he described the state of a sinner at his wits" end with misery, and the reception he meets with from Christ. Thus it pleased the Lord Who had so mightily began the work in me to carry it on by leading me where His Gospel was preached in truth."
Mr. Burrell was a faithful hearer of William Huntington for twenty years, and stood by him through thick and thin. Huntington became famous for his eccentricities, but Burrell's answer to an offended professor of religion reflects his life under that ministry.
"God Himself brought me under his ministry and has manifested him to me as His own servant: him I must hear, and none else, for under him I am much blessed. His infirmities, which I perceive as well as you, nevertheless lead me incessantly to pray for him, and the gracious Lord answers me with joy unspeakable, so that I seldom have a barren opportunity. I find life, love, and power flow into my soul; which sweetly influences my life, walk, and conversation. The pipe through which I suck these blessings at present appears to be neither gold, nor silver but the liquor is truly the new wine of the Kingdom. Is not the excellency of God's power seen in His earthen vessel? If our confidence is never to be fixed till we see perfection in man we shall never be at a point. But we are to stand, walk, and live by the faith of the Son of God Whose perfect work the good man preaches. The devil will not fail to magnify those evident blemishes in the real ministers of Christ, in order if possible to render their labours ineffectual; but God defeats his designs by enabling His own people to cast their burden upon Him."
Indeed he was able to say "I was made to run the heavenly race with such divine vigour and gladness that I could have sat and heard the joyful sound all day long without being tired. I grew now as fast in knowledge and understanding as I had before in experience, and I was filled with unspeakable comfort and admiration at the discoveries I made in the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, which things exceeding delighted my soul".
Mr. Huntington told him he must buy a Bible, which he did, and of this he writes, "My love to His Word became more vehement, so that the Bible was now my companion and delight daily. I was led to pray most earnestly that His Word might dwell in me richly, not to furnish my head but to my edification, comfort, and His glory. I often said, "Lord, I beseech Thee, for Christ's sake, that as Thy mercies have abounded towards me, who am most unworthy, that Thou wouldest humble me to the uttermost under a deep sense that Thou alone art the author of all these things. Pardon, Lord, if I ask amiss, but grant, if consistent with Thy will, that I may be spent in Thy service, to proclaim Thy glorious power, and that sinners may be converted unto Thee. Condescend to give me an holy call, that I may know Thy will, but let me not run of mine own head".
"Many will say on reading this, Certainly here is a marvellous relation of spiritual visions, love, joy, and unutterable peace, but where is the trial of faith and the path of tribulation?" There came plenty of that, as recorded in his book Zion's Waymarks. "By the time I had been six years in a profession [of religion, i.e. a member of Huntington's Church] new scenes opened and new trials came on of all sorts, but especially in providence. My backslidings were many, which made my gracious Father to follow me up with many deserved blows. These all had this blessed tendency to humble me greatly under the mighty hand of God."
After the death of his first wife, who seems to have been a continual trial, Mr. Burrell married the sister of Mr. Blake, a very close Christian friend who later became Huntington's son-in-law. With her he lived in complete harmony for ten years, and her death he felt as a great sorrow. They had one son, who died as a young man, in India; also two daughters, the elder of whom became, later, an honourable member of his Church. The younger daughter lost her reason as the result of a fever, but was able to live at home with the family. His third wife was a widow, Naomi White, Huntington's daughter.
"My shattered vessel," he wrote about this time, "which had been in many storms for some years past, seemed now to have arrived at the desired haven. The Lord brought me again to the days of my spiritual youth, when His Word was so exceedingly sweet and precious to me that I have pressed the Bible to my bosom, and with uplifted eyes and heart loudly praised and blessed my most gracious Father in Christ for His unspeakable gift.
"I shall never forget the sorrow I felt when I heard of the death of our pastor. I could not speak a word, but in a moment of time I saw, in spirit, the whole of his numerous congregation scattered into all winds, and when I called upon God and said, "O Lord, Thy servant is dead; but Thou art alive for evermore", I felt my prayer sensibly go up with acceptance and felt the sweet approbation of God. "Lord, there is nothing too hard for Thee," I said, "As Thou hast taken Thy servant from us. I beseech Thee let a double portion of his spirit rest upon me." Notwithstanding, the mighty workings I felt concerning the ministry I was determined to stick close to the means, and prayed heartily for those ministers we had left. I felt a most wonderful love to God's own sheep and was exceedingly grieved to see them scattered. On the other hand God gave me to see the backslidings of many, and that an evident degeneracy had already taken place. I found my mind singularly led out to grasp all the weapons of our warfare against these evils; this especially sounding within me - "Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith"."
Mr. Huntington died in 1813. The deacons very soon found out about Mr. Burrell's call to the ministry. But from a vehement longing to proclaim the Gospel he was thrown down into dejection and terror. His diary gives a remarkable account of his exercises in this matter. "When the Lord was with me," he writes, "I have mounted up with wings as an eagle, feeling within my soul unspeakable utterance, and matter enough for a thousand discourses. But God tried me with disappointments, and permitted men to set themselves against me; yet there was at the bottom a firm expectation that the time was at hand."
Not long afterwards an upper room (licensed for public worship) was found in a mews, and there one Sabbath morning, August 8th, 1813, Mr. Burrell, with a feeling of great weakness and much bound in spirit, endeavoured to give an account of the reason of the hope that was in him to a few that assembled, declaring what God had done for his soul; and in the evening, the place being so crowded that some were alarmed lest the floor should fall in, he related in a broken manner something of his spiritual call to the ministry. After it was over, many crowded round, and urged him to find a larger and more comfortable place. [Mr. Huntington had left his chapel to his widow, but she refused her consent to Mr. Burrell preaching there, although all four of the trustees wished it.]
"I thought now," says Mr. Burrell, "that the bitterness of death was passed, and God would strengthen me more and more to bear witness of the things He had showed me. But God has chosen His people in the furnace of affliction and His fire is in Zion; young ministers have as much need of it as any, if not more so; therefore lest too much honour should puff me up, humbling dispensations were sent, that before honour there might be humility."
A zealous friend soon heard of a suitable place where Mr. Burrell might preach on the following Friday, and gave notice accordingly. But he was in great confusion, and to add to it, he saw before him several whose faces daunted him, "famous in the congregation, men of renown", whose wisdom, judgment, and longstanding profession were enough to dismay him. While endeavouring to speak from the words, "Not of works, lest any man should boast", feeling himself no more master of the subject than an infant, a heavy .cloud came gradually over and obscured the room, so that he thought it was getting late, and concluded hastily before the time, without clearing his subject up. Some murmured, some showed their disdain, his best friends were dejected and sad, and himself felt so oppressed that he could not speak. Here, he thought, all his preaching had come to an end. Satan said to him, You have run and God has not sent you; therefore has He in anger broken you in pieces. God has no need of such an ass and ignorant fool as you are; return therefore to your painting.
Alluding to these trials he observes again, "Woe to those deluded men who rush into the ministry without those needful instructions! For how shall they be able to lead a poor and afflicted people? Many in our days step into a pulpit with light and unhumbled hearts; they build up hypocrites in a presumptuous confidence, and sing songs to a heavy heart; they encourage them and 'say unto them that despise Me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you; but the children of God are sent empty away"." (Jer: 23, 17.)
Mr. Burrell was brought through these heavy trials and received a most blessed visitation from the Lord, which enabled him "to kneel down before God to thank and bless Him for the strength He had hitherto given to me, and even for the shame, confusion, and mortifying lessons He had taught me! I believed from my soul that the Lord would bring good out of all these seeming evils, and that for shame I should have double."
For the next few years Mr. Burrel s diary reveals that his business declined sharply after he began to preach, and that the burdens of his house and family, the ministry, and his own weak health kept him constantly at the feet of his God. After having a considerable number attend his preaching, he was gradually deserted by some of the more influential members of the late Mr. Huntington's congregation. This wounded him deeply. But a powerful pen was granted to him, and his printed treatises 'show that he was at that time like Jeremiah, a man of contention against both professors and profane, and his spirit was earnestly moved to testify strongly to the truths he had received". After about six years of preaching it became evident that very many of those who had followed him at first were quite alienated in spirit from him. On the other hand, a company of faithful stedfast friends had become fully united in spirit, both to him as their pastor and to each other.
At some period Mr. Burrell gave up his tutorial work with music pupils, but continued his art work. He had pictures hung in the Royal Academy fairly regularly for very many years. (Some of his work may be seen now at the Victoria and Albert Museum.) In the London Directory of 1842 there is an entry, "Joseph Francis Burrell, patent medicines, No. 9 Great Titchfield Street". No. 9 is a house on a corner, and there Mr, Burrell apparently provided for himself, his wife and two daughters, by selling the decoctions of the day.
And who knows what godly words might have gone with them from time to time?
"Patiently and assiduously," writes a friend, "did this good man continue to the end of his life in the ministry he had thus begun. He moved to a house, No. 9 Great Titchfield Street, to which belonged a large room fitted up as a chapel, and there he preached every Sunday, morning and evening, and Wednesday evenings, never absent from his post except on a few rare occasions through illness or visiting his friends in the country. He seldom visited, even amongst his own people." He says himself, "I know not what it is to enjoy one day's health, being afflicted continually with a most grievous bilious complaint [an ulcer?] which constrains me to take more medicine than perhaps all my congregation together. Six or seven months in the year I never go out of my house except to the chapel, which is on the ground floor. I fear that every winter will make a full end of me, my lungs being so delicate that the least cold influences them to an alarming degree. I have preached twice with a blister on my breast; I always feel like a dying man, finding no rest in my body, and I am a wonder to all that know me. Yet my infirmities have been so sanctified as to be esteemed rather blessings than otherwise; for in answer to prayer I have been so amazingly strengthened and comforted that I have preached for two hours with such strength and power as if nothing ailed me".
"Every Monday evening a company assembled at his house, with whom he used to converse in a most beautiful and edifying manner of the things that belong to salvation; being sometimes led out in a remarkable manner to dwell upon the great truths of the Gospel and the work of the Spirit of God, so that those who heard him could not withstand the blessed influence, and felt that faith came by hearing. The joy of his heart used to shine in his countenance, and the love and tenderness of his spirit was sweet indeed. Persons who did not know him personally, but only knew that he kept himself very much apart from other Churches and ministers, often supposed he was harsh and bigoted, but nothing could be more different from the truth, and a word spoken in the spirit of love and the fear of the Lord was sufficient to open his heart."
One of Mr. Burrell's deacons was Thomas Nunn, a provision and tea merchant, of Great James Street, Bedford Row. A small volume of Posthumous Letters is all that can be traced of Mr. Nunn. A letter to his friend Mr. Yeomans, in April, 1840, gives a glimpse of his character. "It is now nearly twenty-six years since our little Church was formed and we deacons set apart to our office. At that time I was very reluctant to be one of them, and I prayed Mr. Burrell that he would not nominate me, as I felt I should bring no honour to the cause of God, not having been of any account in the old Church, and especially as I had not been set at liberty so as to have a strong confidence of my state, which thing I was looking after much in those days. But these arguments proved vain. The minister's and people's voice brought me to submit to the dispensation, though at the time it was very grievous to me. But what was worse was that when we stood round the pulpit and Mr, Burrell prayed over us and set us apart to our office, this thought fell upon me with a most deadly weight - that I should prove just like Nicolas, one of the seven deacons chosen in the Acts, who, according to Augustine, fell into many awful errors. And what seemed to confirm that it should prove so was the first letter of his name beginning as mine! With this weapon Satan has, over many years, greatly distressed me, but I have since seen that the Lord permitted it so that He might take a sweet advantage of it to make me watch and pray.
"Another thing I feel the Lord has over-ruled for my good in putting me in this position of deacon is the continual fear about the necessity of making an open confession of Christ's name, and of being an example to others. This has caused me to put up some thousands of petitions and has often made me groan, being burdened. Nevertheless, it has not been all sorrow. The good Lord has at times comforted me much, and enabled me to believe that he put me into this office for the very purpose that it should be a continual maul on "the old man of sin" and by His blessed fear it should at all times be a check upon the rampant corruptions of my heart."
Like most London merchants of those times Mr. Nunn lived on the premises of his provision business, with its "counting-house"" behind. The house was large, and around 1830 Mr. Nunn had inaugurated a weekly evening meeting there on a Thursday, partly because he was growing "chesty" as he calls it, and could not always get to hear Mr. Burrell. Members were invited to speak out of their experience, or the deacons and pastor would introduce a subject and speak upon it in turn, any present adding comments. These meetings were often times of comfort and encouragement to many, who testified of the presence of the Lord among them as they 'spoke one to another" in the praises of their dear Redeemer.
James Abbott, another member, was a native of Braintree in Essex; his parents were poor but religious people. He was a shoemaker by trade, and used to go from place to place in search of work. When quite a young man he became a hearer of Mr. Huntington, along with his brother, William Abbott, who was afterwards a minister of the Gospel at Mayfield in Sussex. After the death of Mr. Huntington he joined the Church of which Mr. Burrell was pastor. There he gave out the hymns and led the singing for many years. This was not always easy to Mr. Abbot. "Once," he writes, "the house I now live in was in danger of falling by reason of the foundations giving way. I could not but see the kind providence of God in my discovery of the state of the house. Going into the cellar in the day-time with a candle (a thing I very seldom did), I perceived the brickwork bulging in, all rotten and ready to fall. The sight alarmed me, and I fetched a bricklayer to look at it. He persuaded me there was no danger, and I being willing to believe him went about my business. In the evening, walking through the City, I had a most sore conflict, seeming like one surrounded with enemies and was almost overcome in endeavouring to resist them, and so bewildered in mind I hardly knew where I was. I stood still for awhile in the street to recollect myself, inwardly crying to the Lord to subdue the powerful evils of my nature, and to bring my thoughts into captivity to Himself.
"When I reached home the first news I heard was that we must get out of the house that night, for my wife had fetched another bricklayer who assured her that it was not safe to stop another night, for the house might fall instantly. This alarmed me so much that I hardly dared go upstairs to get a few things for our use to take to a neighbour's house till ours was repaired. I felt such condemnation; I acknowledged the Lord would have been just had He suffered the house to fall and bury me in its ruins, and glad was I when I got safe out of it! This was on a Friday. The next day I felt calmer and begged the Lord to give me sensible manifestation of His loving kindness towards me, for I was not altogether as I wished to be. When the Sabbath came I was not disappointed. In the morning I had a good time, and in the afternoon was comfortable with some friends. But when I went to chapel in the evening a gloominess came on me, and after sitting down in my seat such fears and confusion that I felt as if I should fall into black despair. What hard work it was to give out a hymn and sing: but this I must do! It seemed as if I were placed in this position to be made manifest to all as a hypocrite. In singing the hymn I found a little cessation, yet during the prayer my mind was sadly tossed with the tempest, and so continued until Mr. Burrell had gone on in his discourse for some time. But when he spoke of the glorious person of the Son of God who was made manifest to destroy the works of the devil my fears began to subside. I was all ear and now the word became precious, for love flowed in with it. Well may Peter say, "To you that believe He is precious" for the love of Christ, enjoyed in the soul, sweeps away all our doubts and fears. What a change! I wish to set it down on paper but I lack words. It was a memorable time: the last singing that evening was quite different from the first and second. Perfect love had cast out fear. Joy and gladness and thanksgiving and the voice of melody was now heard in my soul, attended with contrition, godly sorrow, and that repentance that needeth not to be repented of. Tears of love and gratitude flowed down, which I hid by hanging down my head. I wanted some retired place where I could have given full vent to my feelings. O what a mixture is felt at such times! What holy awe and reverence of that great and glorious name - "The Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty."
"Here the Saviour of sinners appears precious, who stood as our Surety and in the eye of Justice as a guilty sinner, and therefore could not be cleared until He had paid the uttermost mite: and this He did that we might be cleared. O amazing love, which melts the soul in the dust of humility! A sweet mixture indeed! It is unutterable. All this I felt some measure of. It enlarges the soul towards all that fear God. At such times I am led to beg that He would be pleased to grant such things to all that seek His face, and that those who complain of barrenness and deadness of soul might be led earnestly to seek so as to prevail; that they might magnify the Lord with me, and that we might exalt His name together. At such times there is no contractedness, no narrowness of mind. Nor is there any boasting, or saying, 'stand by thyself: I am holier than thou". No, it is rather - I am more vile: how is it, Lord, that Thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I, so brutish, so loathsome in Thy sight, and now in my own sight too? Wonderful! But so it is. The Father views all his elect in the Son and one with the Son. I little thought when I went through the City on Friday in such a plight as if the whole frame of my nature was set on fire of hell, or when I heard of my house being ready to fall and found such condemnation, or when I sat in chapel in such a doleful situation that so great a blessing was at hand! But that was the way I was to be prepared for it."
James Bourne, another member, was the son of a country gentleman of considerable landed property in Lincolnshire, but being the youngest child of a first marriage he was left very unprovided for when, at fifteen, he lost his father. Like the poet Cowper he suffered an unhappy school life, being sent to Louth Grammar School (as a boarder, it appears) from the age of four and a half! where he was treated miserably by the master, who continually punished, disgraced, and disheartened the boy. "I must acknowledge," he says, "that my natural disposition was volatile and that I was a boy that had no mind for study; nor did the master attempt to correct this deficiency but was always jeering and setting me at nought, so that at last I entreated my friends to let me go to another school in the same town. Here I made more progress in one year than in all the time before, and regained my lost character.
"In the same town I had a brother articled to a solicitor. He had joined himself to the Methodists, and I, too, became one of them. Being a school-boy at a public school I was presently noticed by all parties: flattered and admired by the Methodists, laughed at by others, and scorned by my school-fellows. I had to endure much reproach in the boarding-house from those around me, but this text continually followed me: "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's and of the holy angels!"
"When I left school, though not quite sixteen, I went to London. I tried in various ways to seek for occupation but was not a proper judge of what was likely to prove advantageous to me, nor had I as yet learnt that all things are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. After various unsuccessful attempts to engage in some line of business I at last settled in Manchester. Here I addicted myself to visiting and amusements, and by this means soon lost sight of my profession of religion. I could not quite forget the little understanding I had of divine things, and there were many vices I dared not enter into as others did. Thus the Lord kept alive in my conscience that spark which he had put there, though balls, card-parties, and the like occupied nearly the whole of my time, till my little patrimony began to sink. I was intimately acquainted with many good families in the neighbourhood (what is called the best company in the place), and their homes frequently became my home, but at last, for fear of losing the wreck of my property I left the place.
"For about two years I wandered from place to place being unsettled in my mind and unprovided for, and often fearing I should come to disgrace and ruin.
"One day I was so cast down and so ill-treated by some with whom I had resided a few weeks that I felt overwhelmed with grief. I went to my bedroom and fastened the door, and then fell on my knees, and with all my heart and soul cried to the Lord as nearly as I can remember in these words: "O Lord, what shall I do to maintain myself? I cannot endure this miserable way of living". No sooner were these words out of my mouth than it was impressed on my mind You must draw. I was quite surprised, and though as yet I knew not the Lord yet I considered this a plain direction from Him, and I at once gave up all other plans and began to occupy myself in the art of drawing.
"I immediately went to a kind and wealthy relation, who gave me time and opportunity to practise drawing. Not having the means of paying for instruction I was obliged to work hard to attain to any degree of skill. I have often wondered how the Lord blessed me in my endeavours to sketch from nature, which was one essential point. My first attempt was at the Lakes, where I made a hundred sketches, which were very profitable to me in various ways for forty years. The following year I went through Devon and Cornwall, and was equally successful there, and in this way I became well supplied with materials to work upon.
"I had the opportunity of a journey to London and with my little store of knowledge in the arts I called on an old school-fellow and told him very frankly my history. He was immediately interested for me, and said if I could settle in London he would introduce me to the Countess of Sutherland and Lord Spencer, who was then Lord of the Admiralty. My heart throbbed, knowing my deficiency, yet it seemed an opening I dared not set aside. I found immediate employment in these families, and through many anxieties and fears laboured hard to make myself equal to my engagements.
"It has been very surprising to me that my first employment was in families which, though of high rank, were as little acquainted with the arts as I was. But it pleased God to increase my talent gradually so I gradually rose to be employed by those who were better acquainted with the arts."
[Mr. Bourne exhibited pictures at the Royal Academy many years. They were mainly landscapes, and some of his beautiful aquatints can be seen today at the Victoria and Albert Museum.]
"Now London once more became my home," he continues, "and having parted with all those friends with whom I had lived in dissipation and gaiety I began to think of religion again, and was willing to hear the most noted preachers up and down London. I went on in this way three or four years. My landlord once said to me, "As you are so fond of hearing preachers I wonder you do not go to hear Mr. Huntington". So I did, and thought him the most agreeable preacher I had ever heard. I continued to frequent his chapel together with the Established Church for two years. I was anxious about my soul but had no understanding of what secret communion with God was. I used to pray, as I thought, but never waited for an answer: I supposed I should get that in heaven, not now. About this time I met with Mr. Huntington's book, The Barber, and the Lord was pleased by this book to discover the nature of my profession, that it was altogether vain, and would by no means stand when the rain began to beat and the winds to blow, but would certainly fall, because founded on the sand. This by the power of God swept away every refuge of lies I had been hid under, and left me without a hope and yet not without a cry. This led me to hear more attentively the author of the book: I was in earnest now to seek salvation but found I had lost my way. It was by very slow degrees that I could at all understand the Word, though so faithfully preached, but I felt I was a lost sinner and the minister told me how such were to be saved, and the Lord made me very much in earnest to seek in the way I was directed by the Word.
"My custom was to spend my summers in the country with families of rank, in the way of business. As the time drew near for my leaving town I felt afraid lest being deprived of public worship I should defer that which my heart was now set upon - a knowledge of Christ by the remission of sins. After performing the journey with a young gentleman of the Temple we parted and I went to the house of a friend. I found the family were absent from home but had requested me to stay as long as I liked. I went to bed fatigued and full of fears but when I awoke in the morning I felt something I did not quite understand. I was particularly cheerful. When I arose the happiness greatly increased. I found the burden of all my sins, which had so sore oppressed me, was gone, and I could do nothing but bless and praise God's Holy Name. I had never heard anyone speak of this happiness, but I felt it was what the minister had set forth by the Word as the revelation of Jesus Christ to the soul. I knew the voice, according to the Scripture, "Therefore My people shall know My Name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am He that doth speak; behold it is I". I was now as sure of eternal life as of my existence, nor had I a shadow of a fear about it. Though after this I had many changes, yet did it effectually show me that the Lord had given me spiritual life.
"About this time I was meditating one day on what the Lord had done for me. I was surrounded by outward difficulties, yet was my heart kept peaceful; and I felt greatly afraid of losing my peace, for I was naturally lively and easily betrayed into levity. And as I was mourning over this and regretting before God the sad places into which I should fall (if suffered) in consequence of it, these words were spoken on my heart, causing much surprise - "Never fear but you will have affliction enough to keep that down". And so it came to pass.
"I had some friends who had been very kind to me in many ways, but in consequence of my being much concerned about the salvation of my soul I became a continual reproach to them so that they now turned to be my enemies. I dined with them, I think twice, and was going a third time in my simplicity, not knowing there was any harm likely to accrue to me, but within fifty yards of their door these words were whispered in my heart with mighty force, "Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats; for as he thinketh in his heart so is he. Eat and drink, saith he to thee, but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shall thou vomit up and lose thy sweet words". This made me return home immediately, and as soon as my back was turned to their house I found such peace flow in as I cannot express. But my friends had been exceedingly profitable to me in a way of business and I foresaw that a total separation would be a heavy temporal loss. I continually felt something painful in my communications with many with whom I had formerly associated. All our employment, pleasures, conversations, and prospects differed so much that I saw it was impossible for me to continue on an intimate footing.
"Then came a memorable occasion when my kindest and wealthiest relation withdrew his affections from me and became my enemy because I feared God. When this circumstance took place I was left destitute, without money and without friends, nor could I see anything in the dispensation but God's anger.
"I walked down to Brighton and lodged with a poor God-fearing woman, whose counsel and conversation I found to be both sweet and wholesome. But I was often exceedingly cast down finding my money nearly spent and little prospect of being supported without the patronage of my friends. I often feared both my money and my religion would end together. At length I received a letter from a gentleman in London promising me immediate employment. This encouraged me much and proved an opening in Providence which did not close for many years."
But not only was Mr. Bourne called to part with his worldly friends; his religious friends now turned against him. His Outline continues:
"I had two friends about my own age [thirty-five now] with whom I had often taken sweet counsel, and whom I had often freely reproved for what I saw inconsistent in their conduct. One night in the middle of private prayer in my own room and not thinking of my friends I was stopped with the words, 'suppose you were called upon to give up your friends?" (alluding to these two). I was greatly surprised and replied I could not do that; but I recalled my words and said, "O Lord if Thou wilt enable me I can give them up". Upon which these words followed: "You will be called to give them up for ever". This startled me and I was filled with fear but could not tell what it meant and it all passed from my mind until on the following Sunday we met as usual, when, to my great surprise they told me they could no longer associate with me and begged me to leave them. I went home very sad and solitary, fearing they had discovered I was a hypocrite and unworthy of the notice of any of God's people. I think I never cried to the Lord in such agony of spirit before. I seemed on the brink of despair, for the people of God (as I believed) having judged me altogether wrong it was needless for me to eat or drink for nothing but hell. Added to this, my two friends went to Mr. Huntington and gave such an account of me as to cause him to direct his utmost severity against me from the pulpit, which made all who knew me to avoid me.
"My health became impaired. I could not properly attend to my business. One morning I feared I should really die in my despair and be forever lost. I said in secret, if nothing appears in my behalf before seven o'clock this evening I am gone for ever. While I was in bitter cries before the Lord, lying on the floor in a state of utter hopelessness, these words were gently whispered in my heart, "Thou shalt return in the power of the Spirit". It was repeated to me seven times and broke my heart and set my soul free from the misery and bondage I had laboured under so long. Now I knew by the power of the Word that the Lord Jesus Christ was my Saviour, and my comfort was so sweet that I could not describe it. The Lord was with me now though my friends had forsaken me. This comfort abode with me for many weeks, only now and then interrupted by some sudden reproach cast upon me; for no one would receive my testimony or even hear it. One day a person in the chapel told me I must not sit where I usually did. Those who took part against me drew over many to their side, and I became of small estimation. I used to be pointed out as the apostate, and many would cross the street rather than meet me. But as often as these deep wounds were opened in my soul the Lord would pour in the oil and wine. I now believe that God's purpose in all this was to humble me and to separate me from false professors.
"During this sore trial I was visited in my sickness by a medical man who attended the same ministry, and he kindly sent a friend to see me. This friend was Mr. Burrell, and his conversation with me then formed the beginning of that bond of unity of spirit which I believe will continue to all eternity."
In a letter to Mr. Bourne about this time Mr. Burrell said, The more I dive into this matter the more I am convinced that the hand of God is in it; and instead of being ashamed of your acquaintance I think myself highly honoured of the Lord to be made an instrument of some good towards you. I know that reproach will break the heart, but our good Father will heal it. Your being able in the strength of the Lord to stand against friends as well as foes will greatly redound to the glory of God's grace, and you will perceive that the faith of God's elect, the rich gift of God, is not to be daunted by either men or devils."
The friendship - indeed the love - of these men, pastor and deacons and the Church they served deepened through the years, and now, in the 1830's, a beautiful unity held them together.
Speaking of a Church that lacked this, Thomas Nunn says, They do not seem to know each other in the bonds of the Gospel. There is little or no uniting together for prayer and often speaking one to another, so as to know and feel for one another, in all the afflictions that each member is suffering - which has been our great mercy in our little Church".
Another source of unity was the correspondence of James Bourne. His work often took him away for weeks at a time, but his heart was with the chapel and its members, and he wrote constantly to one or another letters which were full of spiritual help derived from God's Word on his heart. He gives a glimpse now and then of his solitary position in these families:
"I am now separated from friends and from the Church, but not separated from the Word, nor from that "little Sanctuary" which God has promised to be to His people, wherever He carries them. Surrounded with temptations, and often feeling much distance and many fears, I find it hard fighting, especially if the throne of grace is inaccessible. While this is clear I feel power to cast my burdens upon the Lord, but if sin cause Him to depart then I seem to toil all night and get nothing. The more I see of the riches and vanity of this life, in the way of my business, the more I wonder at the discriminating grace of God; and while I pity the portion of the great, I do from my very soul adore Father, Son, and Spirit for the great salvation brought home to my soul. With every kind remembrance to the Church, and the pastor at the head of them who are, I believe, at this moment assembled for public worship, in which my spirit joins most sweetly and cordially."
Writing to a young friend years later Mr. Bourne says, "You cannot understand how that the Lord has called us to an active life; you cannot see that almost all the trials of the fathers (in Scripture) were concerning temporal things, which the Lord made spiritual trials to them. He has always dealt so with me. My heaviest afflictions have been outward, and the Lord has left me to sink under them, and by them driven me to cry mightily to Him. In all my busiest life, mingling with the highest rank and finding myself absolutely shut up with them Sundays and other days, I found this was no source of bondage. Why? Because I proved the Lord had placed me where I was, and therefore I found His promised help; and those seasons were often the most fruitful of my life, the Lord keeping His watchful eye over me in such a way as to preserve my spirit in that spiritual liberty which He has promised to His children".
As he experienced the changes of the Christian life - the lagging, the spiritual sleep, the alarm sent out on account of it, the confession of sin, the prayer needed - so he was enabled to commit these things to writing, as he says in one letter: "Is this gracious dispensation come upon me for myself alone? O Lord, if it be for the good of Thy people, give me time, talents, and power to tell to others what Thou hast done for my soul, that I may, by the help of Thy Holy Spirit, rightly instruct and encourage such of Thy desponding flock as fall in my way; for I, of all men most weak, have been surprised with the loving-kindness and tender mercy of God in Christ Jesus. But there is something further - that I should not only receive this precious salvation and declare it, and comfort others by it, but be found so walking as not to stumble those whom I counsel, nor grieve those who hear that I prevail with God. As I have "received Christ Jesus the Lord" so must I learn "to walk in Him" in godly simplicity and transparency. This will preserve the unity of the Spirit. It is repeatedly and wonderfully set forth in the Word".
He says in his own Memoir "I have often wondered at the sweet and powerful sense of the Lord's presence I have felt while writing. What has often surprised me, and also filled me with awe, is the weight that the Lord has given to my exhortations, both for instruction and reproof as well as consolation".
These letters were often handed from one to another, copied out sometimes, and much prized. It was some of these which Mrs. Nicol had lent to Henrietta, and which had opened such a new world to her wondering eyes.